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This unit is taught completely through roleplay! Each student takes on the role of a different Politburo member and researches 'their' perspective on the key issues facing the new Soviet state. The teacher takes the role of President Kalinin, acting as Chair. Each lesson then works through issues "as they arise" between 1918-24, with plentiful use made of primary sources and round-table discussions. As Lenin's decisions on each issue are outlined, students can then make notes not just on 'what happened' but on how controversial these decisions were and how far Lenin was abandoning his communist ideology in favour of pragmatism; they will also get a very thorough understanding of the different splits in the party which Stalin is later able to exploit to such devastating effect.
Following his earlier talk with students on the subject of the 1917 October Revolution, Professor Orlando Figes of Birkbeck University answered questions from students at the International School of Toulouse on the topic of Lenin's rule of Russia 1918-1924.
Over the course of 45 minutes he answered a wide range of questions that the class had formulated in advance following an in-depth study of Russian history.
The video conference was broadcast live via Google Hangouts and was viewed by more than 30 schools around the world.
Take on the role of a Politburo heavyweight and see how successfully you help Lenin to rule the USSR between 1917-24. A great simulation for approaching what can be a very complicated topic!
Best used EITHER at the end of the teaching phase (but before writing the essay) OR during the revision period, to help consolidate understanding and provide fresh evidence.
Start the lesson by having this image of the 1917 Politburo on the screen. I also like to have "Back in the USSR" by the Beatles playing in the background as students walk in!
Students then use this framework to think through the main issues facing Russia directly after the Bolshevik takeover.
These sources on the 1917 Decrees and the 1918 Constitution are then used to examine and assess Lenin's reaction to these problems. The correct answers to the questions relating to the 1918 Constitution can be found here.
Students use this record sheet to conduct some research on their allocated Politburo character. The same sheet will form the basis of note-taking for the remainder of the unit.
Introducing the Poltiburo!
Each student introduces themselves to the rest of the group prior to the main roleplay session taking place.
The Problem of the Constituent Assembly
Why has the Constituent Assembly turned out to be such a disappointment to the Bolsheviks? How can we justify our decision to close it down?
As stimulus material for this discussion the class should also use this Bolshevik propaganda cartoon justifying the closure of the assembly, and the following video clip.
We now consider what Lenin has actually decided to do and use this to develop our record sheet with evidence of success and failure. The following video clip can also be used for extra detail.
The Problem of World War One
The Politburo is briefed on the ongoing problem of the Great War and the different members of the Politburo offer suggested approaches.
The decision of the Bolshevik leader and the immediate aftermath is considered. Students make notes of success and failure as appropriate. The following video clip covers Lenin's belief that a world revolution would soon make the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk irrelevant.
The Economic Crisis
The Politburo is briefed on the ongoing problem of the Civil War and the members of the Politburo offer possible responses. As further stimulus, students should consider the message of 'Babluki and the Baba', a Bolshevik propaganda cartoon.
The politburo looks at Lenin's solution of 'War Communism' and considers whether it should be regarded as a successful response to the crisis.
Introductory Presentation: The Assassination Attempt on Lenin
As students enter the classroom, I provide a piece of rag for Lenin to hold to his neck. The presentation then outlines the assassination attempt and provides a backdrop to the Red Terror.
Students use this framework to make notes from the PowerPoint, and to consider how we should respond to the negative propaganda being generated by the Red Terror.
A series of direct quotes from the Politburo members are read out to the group. Which are particularly effective at justifying the Red Terror ideologically and / or pragmatically? The following video clips provide useful extra material.
The Politburo considers the problems being created by the Civil War and uses a presentation of propaganda images to determine how successfully the Bolsheviks are winning the propaganda war.
The Response: Did the Bolsheviks win, or did the Whites lose, the Civil War?
A summary of the key factors for Bolshevik success in the Civil War. The Politburo needs to consider whether the Bolseviks deserve to regard this was as a 'success' in that they won it by their own efforts, or a failure in the sense that the Whites merely lost the war. They should then use the following video clips to develop their notes.
The Problem: Tambov Rebellion in the Countryside, Kronstadt Rebellion in the Cities
This presentation outlines the key problems faced by the government.
The Problem: The Demands of the Tambov Rebels and the Kronstadt Sailors
The Politburo reads through the demands of the rebels and decides how to respond.
The Response: NEP
Lenin's policy of NEP is examined and assessed. The following video clip provides more detail.
Stalin and Friends
I have this image on the screen as the students enter the room. Its relevance will soon become clear!
The Problem: A difficulty in delivering on our promise of full independence to national minorities
The Politburo discusses the problem and votes on one of two possible courses of action.
The Response: Stalin is sent to Georgia, Lenin is moved to rebuke him
The Politburo is informed of Stalin's rather brutal handling of the Georgian issue, and of Lenin's response to this. What elements of this affair deserve to be regarded as successes, and which as failures?
The Problem: Divisions in the Party
The Politburo considers the dangerous divisions in the party and possible responses to it.
The Response: Party Factions and the Testament
We end by considering Lenin's decision to ban party factions and to refuse to name a clear successor. Is this the right policy? The final video clip covers Lenin's death and the coming struggle for power.
Classroom Debate and Conclusions
In this activity students assess how far Lenin delivered on his stated promises of "Peace, Bread and Land" and "All Power to the Soviets" for the Russian people. Pairs of students are pitted against each other to debate particular themes, and the rest of the class provides judgements. This can then be converted into an essay using the guidance provided.
Lenin's Rule of Russia: Article by Russel Tarr in History Review Magazine
After the debate has taken place and the essays are thereby planned, students can be provided with this "model essay" by the author of this website to help them gather further ideas and evidence to include in their essays.
Lenin's Russia  (20m)
Lenin's Russia  (50m)
Lenin's Russia  (20m)
The Historiography of Lenin's Russia
This helps students review and develop their judgements of Lenin's USSR from a fresh perspective rather than merely revisit their notes. A range of different interpretations are provided and students need to decide which they find the most convincing and why.
"Compare and contrast the roles of Lenin and Trotsky 1917-1924" / "To what extent did Lenin sacrifice principle to maintain his hold on power?"
This worksheet guides students back through the topic, reframing their thoughts and notes to prepare them for two other possible questions that could appear on the examination paper.
Events (100 years ago today): 1917 - The United States pays Denmark $25 million for the Virgin Islands.
Births (150 years ago today): 1867 - Carl Laemmle, German-born American film producer, co-founded Universal Studios (d. 1939)
Births (100 years ago today): 1917 - M. G. Ramachandran, Indian actor, director, and politician, 5th Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu (d. 1987)
Births (50 years ago today): 1967 - Richard Hawley, English singer-songwriter, guitarist, and producer
Deaths (400 years ago today): 1617 - Fausto Veranzio, Croatian bishop and lexicographer (b. 1551)
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